Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not the biggest cookie lover in the world.  I find that, often, cookies fall short of what I want them to be.  They are either too cakey, too chewy, to crisp, or too soft.  If I was going to love a cookie, it would need to have a combination of those characteristics, ensuring that its textures juxtaposed yet complemented one another perfectly.  Enter the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from Cook's Illustrated

This cookie is soft and chewy in the center yet crisp around the edges.  It is also chock-full of yummy toffee flavor thanks to browned butter and the method by which the dough is created.  Gooey chocolate chips push this cookie over the edge and make it truly craveable, even for a non-cookie-lover like me. 

All you need is a cup of cold milk, a warm throw, and a magazine (or Downton Abbey finale, anyone?) and you will be set for anything this winter weather we are having throws your way. 

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies- makes approximately 16 cookies (or 24 smaller cookies)

While I did not create this recipe, I post it here to have a record of it.  I have only slightly adapted it from the original created by Cook's Illustrated to whom I give full credit. 

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups good-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.  Whisk the flour and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt 10 tablespoons of butter on medium high.  Once melted, swirl or stir the butter in the skillet until it reaches a dark golden brown color and smells nutty, 1-3 minutes more.  Pour the melted butter into a bowl and add the remaining butter to the melted butter.  

Add the sugars, salt, and vanilla to the bowl with the butter.  Add the egg and egg yolk, and whisk until fully combined, about 30 seconds. Set this mixture aside for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds more.  Repeat this process 2 more times until the butter mixture is smooth and silky.  Stir in the flour mixture until just combined.  Stir the chocolate chips into the dough.  

Remove the dough from the bowl 3 tablespoons (I use 1 1/2 tablespoons for a smaller cookie) at a time.  Arrange the dough 2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.  Bake the cookies, 1 tray at a time, until they are puffy, golden around the edges, but still soft in the center, 10-14 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking.  Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are lemons which have been cut and packed with kosher salt or coarse sea salt so that their juices and the salt create a sort brine in which they cure.  They are wonderful additions to soups and stews where a tart flavor is desired.  They also go very well (obviously) in Moroccan dishes, with fish, and can even be used in desserts (preserved lemon bars, anyone?). 

I have had a jar of lemons hanging out in the pantry for a month or so, and now they are finally finished and ready to be used.  While preserved lemons can be purchased in some markets, they are usually packed in a vinegar brine and have a very different taste from those made at home.  Homemade preserved lemons are fresher and brighter in flavor, and therefore, worth the little effort required to make them. 
The best lemons to use for this project are thin-skinned Meyer lemons.  Unfortunately, they cannot be easily located where I live, so I used regular lemons from the grocery.  Since these lemons are thicker-skinned, I soaked them in water for two days before beginning to soften them a bit and rinsed them in hot water afterwards to remove any wax residue from the skin.

Once they had been soaked, I cut them in quarters lengthwise leaving them attached at the stem end.  I packed the inside of the cut lemons with salt, and placed them in a jar, pressing down to release some of the juice.  A quart jar will hold approximately 6 to 8 lemons if they are packed well.  Then, all that is left is to wait a month or so until they are ready.  Their tart vibrancy provides a bit of needed sunshine on these cold winter days. 

If you are interested in Moroccan food including preserved lemons this book, Morocco by Jeff Koehler, is an good read and resource.

Preserved Lemons- makes 1 quart jar (6-8 lemons)

If using thin-skinned lemons like Meyers, all that is needed is to wash the lemons well.  If using thicker-skinned lemons, soak the lemons in lukewarm water for 2 days, changing the water daily.  The soaking process will soften the lemon skin.  They will then need to be rinsed in warm water to remove any wax from the outside of the lemon.  Also, try to get smaller lemons as you will be able to fit more in the jar and they pack easier.   

10 lemons (6-8 for the jar, and 2 for the juice) 
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt (1/2-3/4 cup)

Sterilize a quart jar.  Juice two lemons and set the juice aside.  Using a sharp knife, cut a lemon in half lengthwise leaving the stem end attached.  Rotate the lemon 90 degrees, and cut again so that the lemon is now cut into quarters lengthwise but all the quarters are attached at one end.  Gently open the wedges of the lemon and generously pack the inside with salt.  Rub salt on the outside of the lemon as well.  Place the lemon in the jar and press down on it to release some of the juice.  Repeat this process with the remaining lemons, packing them securely into the jar.  Pour the reserved lemon juice over the top to cover the lemons.  The lemons need to be completely covered with juice.  Invert the jar several times to distribute and dissolve the salt.  Place the lid on the jar.  Place the jar in a cool, dark place for one month.  Once the lemons are ready, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.    

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